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The Past

Volume 582: debated on Wednesday 11 June 2014

5. What role she plans to play in advancing a comprehensive process for dealing with the past and its legacy. (904132)

The Prime Minister and I have been engaged with Northern Ireland’s political leaders in recent weeks to urge them to make progress on finding an agreed way forward on the past. The Prime Minister’s article in the Belfast Telegraph made the case strongly for an agreement on all three Haass issues. We both welcome the fact that party leaders are meeting again and are planning to step up their engagement on these matters with a more intensive process. [Interruption.]

Order. The House can scarcely hear the Secretary of State. That is not her fault, but the fault of Members. We are discussing extremely serious matters. Let us have a bit of order.

At the evidence sessions for the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, we heard directly from victims sector individuals who expressed their disappointment and distrust—indeed, their profound upset—at what had happened with the on-the-runs, and their need to see closure on this issue. What can the UK Government bring to the table as part of the talks that are about to start to ensure a fully comprehensive deal on the past that is transparent and respects the sensitivities of victims?

As I have said already, I believe that a way forward on the past has to put victims at its heart. I also agree with the hon. Lady that a new process needs to be transparent, balanced and accountable. As the OTRs issue has demonstrated, it is vital that we put any side deals behind us and that the way we approach the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past is balanced, transparent and accountable. We have said that we will work with the kind of institutions set out in Haass 7 if they are formally agreed by the parties.

11. The Secretary of State will be aware that many people in Northern Ireland are living in dread of the potential for another summer of disruption and distress. So that people are not held to ransom through another summer of protests, intimidation and violence, does the Secretary of State agree that there is now a compelling need for both the British and Irish Governments to become fully engaged in bringing the Haass discussions, and the discussions that have flowed from them, to a productive conclusion? (904138)

Both the UK and Irish Governments will continue to support the efforts of party leaders to reach a conclusion on the Haass issues. Like the hon. Gentleman, I urge everyone, as we approach the height of the parading season, to comply with the rule of law to ensure that all protests and all parades are both peaceful and lawful, and that the Parades Commission’s determinations are complied with.

Does the Secretary of State agree that getting Sinn Fein to tell the truth about the past is like hoping that Nick Clegg will be the Deputy Prime Minister after the 2015 election? Does she agree that the best way to deal with the past at this precise time is for her Government to annul the letters to the on-the-runs?

As I have said many times in relation to those letters, they did not confer an amnesty; they were merely a statement of fact about an individual’s status with regard to the police and prosecuting authorities at a particular point in time, and that was confirmed by the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland in the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee yesterday.

There should be no amnesty or “get out of jail free” card for troubles-related crimes, but does the Secretary of State agree that in 90% of cases, according to experts, victims will not get justice by pursuing prosecutions alone, because the evidence is simply not available to bring those cases to trial and get a conclusion?

What came across clearly was that many victims wanted the possibility of justice. I think they would accept that in many cases that is going to be difficult to achieve, but it would be unacceptable to introduce an amnesty and deprive victims of any hope of receiving justice.